“The Harvest of Loneliness” is a film that not only details the history of one of the largest guest worker programs in history, but also gives voice to those who were emotionally impacted by it.
The documentary details a 22-year-old guest worker program that employed thousands of Mexicans who would work seasonally and/or temporarily for U.S. employers and be deported thereafter.
Last Wednesday night, a screening of the documentary was hosted at Kresge Town Hall. Gilbert Gonzalez, the co-director of the film and a professor emeritus of Chicano/Latino studies at UC Irvine, lead a discussion and Q&A after the film.
The event was sponsored by the UCSC Center for Labor Studies, the UCSC Latin American and Latino Studies Department and the Chicana/o Latina/o Resource Center (El Centro), among others.
For some of its viewers, the film elicited important questions in regards to present and prospective labor conditions.
“The film is relevant right here and now, given that Congress is considering a guest workers program as part of the immigration reform package it is beginning to organize,” said Rosalee Cabrera, director of El Centro. “We need not make the same mistakes as we did in the past — and the film clearly demonstrates that workers were mistreated, not respected and agreements were not kept.”
The film is not merely a historical account. It also focuses on the voices of the Braceros and their families, who were often left behind.
“The documentary demonstrates, in detail, the realities of a guest worker program, of the treatment of the men and the effects on families,” Gonzalez said. “[The film] asks the question: Who benefits? Obviously, the program guaranteed a supply of cheap labor at the flick of a switch — labor which is highly controlled and easily disposed of.”
When asked how far he had to go to acquire sources, Gonzalez said he looked no further than his own classroom.
“I didn’t have to go very far for interviewing,” Gonzalez said. “Students had family members that were part of the program from places such as Orange County, Oxnard, Los Angeles and El Centro. It was a community effort, with many undergraduate and graduate participants.”
While the film’s subject is the temporary migration of millions of Mexican workers to the U.S., the Q&A after the movie prompted discussion about current labor conditions in the United States.
Jessica Martinez, a first-year UCSC student, who is also a labor worker on the weekends, shared her reaction to the film.
“The film was so realistic and similar to what’s going on now in the hardships of labor in the fields that it made me cry. It was very motivational,” Martinez said. “I believe this film is so empowering because it speaks the truth, and allows the observer to witness the hard-labor experience. No one should believe this is ‘better’ than what was going on before, because there is still injustice.”
Many others in the audience wanted to know what could be done on both the individual and collective levels to stop similar programs from being enacted.
“Now is the time to be informed and involved,” Cabrera said. “We are closer than ever to making the Dream Act and immigration reform a reality … The information [shown in this film] will hopefully urge students to call their representative in Congress to say we need reform now.”